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Midwest PQ Launches – 2017

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Meanwhile …. back in the MIDWEST, where Barbara was born….

JOAN HESS carried out book launches in Forest Park (near where Barbara went to high school) and in Madison, Wisconsin, at two beloved independent book stores….

CENTURIES & SLEUTHS   and  MYSTERY TO ME

At Centuries and Sleuths, two large carrot cakes appeared (courtesy of relatives of Barbara’s who live in the Oak Park area), in honor of the occasion.  (Also mindful of the fact that Joan had declared carrot cake a full meal, as it contains all necessary food groups — protein, vegetable, fruit (raising) and carbs…) (no comment!)   Owner Augie Alesky remembered that Barbara LOVED kolackies from a local bakery, and had sneakily asked him to help her find some when she last visited Centuries and Sleuths.  So he and Tracy made sure they had some of those delicacies on hand also!

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In the window at Centuries and Sleuths, in honor of the occasion, was a display featuring Ancient Egypt (oh no, Budge!!) and details on The Painted Queen.  Joan put on her sparkle, and greatly enjoyed conversations with fans who had come from all over.  (She and Barbara both talked about how they would go to signings and “sparkle” for fans…)

NEXT STOP — Mystery to Me, a favorite haunt for mystery readers in Madison, Wisconsin.  Joanne Berg, Jayne Rowsam, and Doug Moe greeted Joan with (of course!) carrot cake.  Doug not only conducted a wonderful interview, but made sure that some vodka appeared as well.…  An enthusiastic audience joined in, and lined up for a book signing afterwards.  Another independent bookstore that came in high on Joan’s list, Mystery to Me is stocked not only with mysteries but with children’s books and other fare to feed the hungry reader!

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When the Painted Queen hit the bestseller list, Doug again checked in with Joan and published a terrific column to celebrate.  He described the launch party in Madison:

I’ve been doing author interviews at events at Mystery to Me for two years now and have enjoyed almost all of them.

The night of July 26—Beth Mertz came, too—was special. Not only because of the unusual circumstances behind the publication of “The Painted Queen,” but because in person Joan Hess turned out to be as spirited, humorous and salty as she was in our phone chat.

Illness and a bad hip kept her in a wheelchair that night, but Hess was undaunted. Entering the store, she spied the carrot cake that Mystery to Me proprietor Joanne Berg and brought for the occasion. There was wine, too, but I sensed from Hess that something was missing.

I phoned home. “Bring vodka!”

Mrs. Moe is resourceful, and we live near the bookstore. She was there in minutes with the requested libation. She and Hess bonded.  The store was packed with readers of the Peabody novels, grateful to hear the backstory…

And indeed, it was a special evening.  Together with the previous evening at Centuries and Sleuths, it gave Painted Queen a midwest launch that did justice to two friends,  Mertz and Hess, in a final bow.

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East Coast PQ Launches – 2017

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As the one-year mark passed on the Painted Queen book launches, we thought of the fun, even raucous, celebrations last year.  On the East Coast, fans celebrated in New York City and Frederick (Barbara’s home town).  The New York launch featured the one-and-only Barbara Rosenblat, doing her third reading from “Queen.”  One she did prior to Barbara Mertz’s death, reading a draft chapter from PQ for the Maryland Library Association when it honored Mertz in 2010.  The second reading was — well, the audio recording of the entire book!  (Check out this interview of Rosenblat about PQ and Barbara Mertz — whom she loved to call “Ethel”…) And the third reading helped to launch the book:  it occurred at  Book Culture on Columbus in NYC.

Meanwhile, MPM’s hometown in Frederick Maryland went all out to throw a big party at the bookstore owned by one of Barbara Mertz’s dear friends, Chuck Roberts.  Spearheaded by energetic “dear reader” and MPM fan Christina Startt, the launch party featured Emerson and Amelia in costume, as well as a talk by Dr. Ray Johnson, another dear friend of Barbara’s and Director of the Epigraphic Survey of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute at Luxor.

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IMG_1128Painted Queen book launch, Ray Johnson speaking, Wonder Book Store, Frederick, from outside, July 25, 2017. Photo by Chuck Roberts

Copies of Painted Queen sold at Book Culture and at WonderBooks in Frederick had bookplates signed by Joan Hess and by the Barbara G Mertz Trust.  (They may still have a few left.)

 

 

2017 in the MPM Fan World

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2017 was such a big year in the MPM fandom that we’re not sure we can do it justice here. Of course, the big news was the launch of The Painted Queen, with a pub date of July 25!

In the meantime, readers were busy with everything from fancasts to Amelia vocabulary lessons to very active Facebook discussions (see Another Shirt Ruined:  a group for fans of Barbara Mertz and  The Amelia Peabody Fan Club for starters!) …. and then there were all the PQ book launch activities, fan reviews and more!

In March, Egyptologist Edmund Meltzer discussed Barbara Mertz’s status as “Queen of Egyptian-themed mysteries” at a convention in Wisconsin, continuing an admiration he’d had for her writings since he reviewed the first Amelia novel in … 1977!!

Spring 2017 also brought an exciting show-down on the Ball State English competition. At first Amelia Peabody made it to the “elite eight”:

“Our next Elite Eight match has The Girl on the Train taking on the Amelia Peabody series. Who will advance to the Final Four?”  

Amelia fans rose to the task, and AP advanced to the “final four” but had to face off against ….. Harry Potter!! OH NO! (As MPM was a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, we hastened to tell everyone that we could live with a loss.)
HOWEVER …. the AP team once again prevailed, sending us to the finals. And in the end… 4/4/2017 – Ball State English Amelia Peabody 62% to Bad Feminist 38%

The Amelia fandom is clearly alive and kicking!

Throughout the year, Amelia fans shared their ideas about who should play their favorite characters, still desperately dreaming of the day when they might see Amelia and Emerson, Walter and Evelyn, traipsing through the Egyptian wilderness on the silver screen! In the meantime, the fan-casting continues! Some 2017 fan-casting highlights:  FebruaryMarchSeptember(1)September(2)October (1)October (2)October (3)October (4)November (and that’s just the start!)

Tumblr user riley1cannon recounts the time she realized she was reading the Amelia Peabody books out of order: “Ramses is 34!” –> “He was just a baby the last time I’d seen him!”

All this team spirit put us in the right mood for the rising energy surrounding not only the publication of Painted Queen but also the re-publication of Amelia Peabody’s Egypt (**THE ONLY BOOK BY BARBARA MERTZ THAT HAD BEEN OUT OF PRINT AT THE TIME!!!)(Barbara enjoyed touting APE during a talk she gave at the Library of Congress...)

DOUBLE-DECKLE BOOKS …. Also, please take note: both books were issued with fancy deckle edges, which made the pages fun to flip. (Nerd pleasures)

As the much-awaited pub date approached, the publisher teamed up with @teamramses (and Goodreads) to give fans several chances to receive pre-publication copies (which had not yet received final edits)… Oh the excitement!

Early fan reviews began to hit the internet, a number of which we were able to include on our blog… Still more excitement, as we heard from Brent Butler, Alisha Trenalone, Benjamin Phillips and others!!!

AND FINALLY IT WAS LAUNCH DAY — JULY 25 2017! With events in New York, Chicago, Madison WI, and Frederick MD, Painted Queen hit the ground in style! In New York, “the voice of Amelia” Barbara Rosenblat gave listeners a taste of the audiobook version of PQ — a sentimental moment for her as a dear friend of Barbara Mertz’s (as well as Mertz’s preferred reader for the Amelia audiobooks).

As HarperCollins proudly announced,
THE PAINTED QUEEN by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess (on sale 7/25) made its debut on the New York Times Bestseller List (8/13) at #7 and was featured on the NYT’s “Inside The List”. As a crowning moment, the Washington Post List debuted Painted Queen even higher, at #5.

And PQ earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly:
“The long-running series by MWA Grand Master Peters (1927 – 2013) featuring forthright Amelia Peabody Emerson and her irascible archeologist husband, Radcliffe Emerson, comes full circle with this energetic final novel completed by Hess, Peters’s friend and fellow mystery author. … ), the Emerson clan takes a fitting final bow as the curtain falls on a pioneering career.”

These were happy moments for Joan Hess, who had finished The Painted Queen as a final act of friendship for Barbara Mertz. During the time Hess worked on PQ, she was quietly struggling with increasingly serious health problems. She died on November 23, 2017. Days before her death, she learned that Malice Domestic would be giving her an Amelia Award for her work on The Painted Queen.

It was a year of highs and lows, a time we’ll all remember. Like Barbara, Joan would not welcome maudlin sentiment — her preferred mode was sly humor, a trait that endeared her to her readers and friends. Wherever they are, Barbara and Joan are doubtless chuckling and raising their glasses for yet another toast.

Credit again to @teamramses for co-writing this!!

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2016 in the MPM Fan World (Prequel)

Now that we’ve made it through the incredible highs and lows of 2017, we have a moment to look back – not only over this past year, but also over 2016.  (Thanks as always to @TeamRamses, who had already prepped most of this post for 2016 last year as the Painted Queen frenzy was beginning to hit!!  Our bad that we’re just now catching up ….)

2016 marked some amazing moments that highlighted not only the humor and continued energy of the MPM fandom … but also its kindness and generosity.

In April of 2016, Papyrus-Leaves a.k.a. BookishArdor bid on a batch of MPM’s book collection at an auction and won! She has also been doggedly reading every MPM novel (yes, every. single. one.) In September, she posted about her favorite Barbara Michaels novels here.

Every day in May, Artist Élena Nazzaro illustrated a portrait of strong female literary characters, and May 4th was our very own Amelia. Check it, and her other lovely artwork, out at her website: blog.frenchtoastgirl.com.

In July, the Meet Mystery Book Club (@MeetMystery) took the fans through a lively discussion of Crocodile on the Sandbank on Twitter.

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In September, in the true spirit of the Amelia Peabody, the community joined together to help a fellow fan who lost her beloved MPM book collection in the Louisiana flood.  On Tumblr, AmeliaPeabodyBookClub tracked the donations so we didn’t duplicate, and in the end not only all the Amelia books were retrieved, but quite a few other Elizabeth Peters books as well.  Here is the thank you note we received from our fellow “dear reader” after receiving books mailed from all over the place:

To the thoughtful fans of Elizabeth Peters —

You have touched my heart! As you know, the recent floods in Baton Rouge devastated our home. Even worse, it drowned my cherished collection of books by the amazing Barbara Mertz. The water rose above the eaves on our roof and our beautiful home sat there, stewing in the water, for almost 7 days. When we were finally able to get inside and sort through the soggy remnants of our life, it was one of the lowest moments I’ve ever faced. I picked up book after beloved book and forced myself to toss them into the growing pile of trash. They reeked. The pages were glued together with mud and the bindings were falling apart in my hands.

It was beyond devastating. This feisty Amelia Peabody had become a friend to me. I valued her advice. I loved her wit. I shared her with fellow book-devourers. We even had a history together, Amelia and I. You see, I wielded her like a secret weapon on my little sister, a college student, who for years could not be convinced to enjoy reading. I gave her the first Amelia book with the promise that if she did not fall in love immediately, I would never pester her again about reading good books. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now, imagine my surprise when, on my birthday, I open a box full of books — cherished, treasured books. The sheer shock… and joy! The thought that each was chosen for me, from your personal libraries, is emotionally overwhelming. (Yes, I know Amelia would have something to say about my emotional state!) There were also several Vicky Bliss novels sent that I can’t wait to introduced myself to. I found that many of the books had notes tucked inside, full of kind and inspiring words. These things have become my new treasures.

I think that Barbara Mertz would have been pleased to see what she inspired in those who adore her work – this community of friends, willing to give pieces of themselves to someone they’ve never met. Thank you all – you have brought Amelia to life for me one more time and I’m forever grateful!

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Throughout the year, TeamRamses took us on a journey back through Seeing a Large Cat. The fandom spent a good chunk of time sobbing over Bastet (#notoverit) and researching French playwrights. Two things that probably don’t seem to go together but totally do when you are an MPM fan!

And of course, many, many, many fans shrieked and did a little jig to (finally) have the official announcement for The Painted Queen.

……. and THAT adventure was just beginning! To be continued (as soon as we can collect enough of the events from 2017 into one document and post it!) ….

Credit & thank-you to @TeamRamses for writing most of this post

A Sad Goodbye to Joan Hess

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Many of you have probably already read of Joan Hess‘s passing on Thanksgiving Day, 2017.   She had been undergoing serious health challenges throughout the three years during which she was completing The Painted Queen.  But, she persevered valiantly throughout, and was very excited to see the book published this past July.  Joan personally attended signings in the Chicago area and in Wisconsin, revisiting two independent book stores that had long been favorites of hers and Barbara’s.  In the Chicago area, Hess signed books at Centuries and Sleuths — where owner Augie Alesky greeted her with a marvelous window display and treats for all comers.  In Madison, Wisconsin, Joan delighted in her interview at Mystery to Me with writer Doug Moe — and the carrot cake thoughtfully supplied by owner Joanne Berg.  Doug recently wrote a post that recalled Joan’s visit, and her wistful hope that she could hit the bestseller list after a long career as an accomplished mystery writer.  Author of the hilarious Maggody series featuring Arly Hanks, she also toasted her hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas in a series centering on bookstore owner/sleuth Claire Malloy.

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PQ hit the New York Times bestseller list at #7 in its first week, and also reached #5 on the Washington Post list.  This was a fitting tribute to Joan’s labors, to Barbara’s final efforts at giving voice to Amelia, and to their friendship.  They were part of a close group of writer friends who had long supported each other, attending Malice Domestic together — and then separately holding their own “Grouchercons” to vent their own brand of sardonic humor.

We risk inciting them to haunt us if we end with maudlin sentimentality (although it must be said that they were both deeply sentimental despite many avowals to the contrary!).  So, have a slice of carrot cake, lift a glass of vodka (if you can stand the combination!), and drink to the memory of one hell of a woman.

Celebrating Barbara, and Amelia

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On September 29 — Barbara Mertz’s birthday — we can happily celebrate a year during which Barbara’s legacy has flourished with the publication of her final novel, The Painted Queen finished by her dear friend, Joan Hess.   (For more on Hess’s labors, assisted by another Barbara friend, Salima Ikram, see our earlier blog post.…)

Painted Queen debuted at  #7 on the New York Times bestseller list, and #5 on the Washington Post bestseller list.  What a testament to the pent-up demand of many fans who had been waiting for this final chapter of the Amelia series!  Chronologically, the final book was Tomb of the Golden Bird, published in 2006.  Barbara said she wanted her beloved characters to go off into the sunset happily, and that she wanted to write the actual ending of the series while she was still at full strength in terms of her writing.  She had commented admiringly on Agatha Christie’s similar decision to write the endings for her sleuths Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot long before the end of her writing career.  But where Christie held the final books for publication until the very last, Barbara published her final Amelia and then went back to fill in “missing years” in the Peabody/Emerson chronicles.  Queen is the last of these fill-in novels.

Barbara was so invested in this final novel that she actually asked friend — and voice of the Peabody/Emerson clan — Barbara Rosenblat to perform a public reading of the then-unfinished book.  Rosenblat read this early part of the novel at a ceremony in which the Maryland Library Association honored Mertz — attending in the author’s stead because she was too ill at the time to go.  Rosenblat assumed that the book would never be finished.  As it turned out, she was able to do one more Amelia reading after all!

So, happy birthday — here’s to Barbara! —  and to Joan and Salima and “Rosenblat” (affectionately) and to the whole community that continues to love and breathe life into the worlds that Peters and Michaels left us.

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[**Readers of Silhouette in Scarlet will appreciate the picture above of a hand-cut silhouette made of Barbara many years ago.  The other silhouette is from stationery Barbara had made for her “official” MPM Manor correspondence …  the similarity to Amelia is unmistakable!]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering and Celebrating

Four years ago, we lost a friend and author whose voice echoed in that of Amelia but also of Emerson and Nefret and Ramses — of Vicky and John and Jacqueline and Abdullah.  We hear her in the erudite narrator of Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs as well as in the silliest of the farcical moments in Naked Once More or The Camelot Caper.

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Celebrate!

Sensible, wistful, glorying in the ridiculousness of life, horrified by human cruelty, impatient with snobbery — there were many voices in her writings.  But no one who knew Barbara Mertz could doubt one key message she wanted to impart:  we should celebrate the many gifts we have.  Celebrate that we are here.  Celebrate each other. Celebrate the amazing variety of cultures and art and music and gardens and … well, it all gets too much to put in a paragraph, let alone a sentence!  Chocolate! Gin!  Cats! Celebrate that there are dahabeeyahs!   Barbara with her arms wide open in welcome and enthusiasm — we celebrate this memory.

We are also celebrating the publication of Barbara’s final Amelia book, The Painted Queen, completed by her dear friend Joan Hess, with help from another close friend, Salima Ikram.  It is awesome that the book has made multiple bestseller lists now — but it is even more awesome that it was friendship that carried it there.  (At this point, Barbara would say not to get too sentimental and schmaltzy.  Of course she did that all the time, while denying it vigorously.)

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Toward the end of her life, Barbara said that heaven would have to be pretty great to be better than this life.  But this life was great to her because she reveled in all it had to give. So today we celebrate, as she would want us to.  The New York Times bestseller list is great!  (It’s fantastic!  It’s worth an extra glass of gin or several extra brownies!) But so is a beautiful garden, or a book that takes us somewhere new, or even more important, the evil chuckles of friends who have just pulled the greatest prank of all with you….  (no, Joan and Salima and the rest of you — please don’t get any ideas!!) (But …. thanks.)

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MONDAY NIGHT, July 31! New York City! Barbara Rosenblat Reading from Painted Queen! 7 pm, bookculture on Columbus!

 

NOT TO BE MISSED — Tomorrow Night, Monday July 31st, at 7 pm, at bookculture

450 Columbus Ave.
New YorkNY 10024

 

We implore any fans who go to take pictures and send them to the jealous members of MPM who cannot be there!!!  And we thank the many fans who came to the kick-off events in Forest Park, IL — Frederick, MD — and Madison WI !  We’ll be posting more about those soon.  THIS IS PUB WEEK for our beloved Painted Queen … we are told the first week sales are key, and since we are pushing for some future plans on Amelia, we’re rallying Elizabeth Peters fans …   THIS IS NOT THE END, IT’S THE BEGINNING of new horizons!  (ALSO, we just love Barbara Rosenblat, the voice of EP books for decades and a major voice artist!!)

 

 

Painted Queen, the weekend (Nefertiti Boot Camp)

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VERSION I:  THE OMNISCIENT NARRATORS’ STORY  (really)

Joan Hess was asked if she would finish The Painted Queen shortly after Barbara Mertz’s death.  At first she was uncertain about whether she would take on that very daunting task (exact quote, “Hell no.”)  Within several months, she was invited back to Barbara’s celebrated home (The Manor) along with highly respected Egyptologist (and another dear friend of Barbara’s) Salima Ikram.  Piles and piles of notes and drafts for PQ were still at the house.  The weekend trip was designed to allay Joan’s fears that taking on a book with so much Egyptology in it would be just too much.  The plan was that Salima, with background encouragement from Barbara’s daughter Beth, would demonstrate her palpable support for Joan, and give everyone a basic introduction to the relevant Egyptology and its many pitfalls.

The three women found many folders of notes and research done by Barbara in preparation for writing PQ, along with multiple versions of the initial chapters.  Over the course of the weekend, the small team examined each folder carefully, discussing how things would fit together.  While there was a lot of material, this didn’t necessarily make things easier — everything was jumbled in a way that made sense to Barbara but not necessarily to anyone else.  The three also shared discussions that they had been having with Barbara while she was plotting and writing the book.  When Joan initially gazed on Barbara’s bust of Nefertiti, covered with a black Victorian lace headscarf, she turned pale and said, “Take that away.”

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But who could resist my charms?

Local Frederick friends of Barbara’s dropped in bearing food and especially drink to support the endeavor.  Everyone plied Joan with inducements, including one of her big favorites — carrot cake.  (Carrot cake, she pointed out, counts as a full meal because it includes all 4 main food groups — fruit (raisins), vegetables (carrots), protein/dairy (egg/milk/nuts) and carbs.)  Cocktails were made.  And consumed.

By the end of the weekend, Joan was able to face Nefertiti (both with and without the scarf), fortified by much carrot cake (and, did we mention especially ‘drink’?).  She was heartened when they found the final paragraphs of the book, handwritten by Barbara, in which the villain was identified and Amelia had the last word, as usual.  (These are are reproduced verbatim in the published book.)

Dressed in borrowed Egyptian robes from Barbara’s amazing vintage and Egyptian clothing collection, Joan joined with Salima and Beth in a celebratory (okay, throwing in the towel) ritual to seal the deal and send Nefertiti (or at least part of her) wandering all over Egypt.

During the tough three years ahead, Joan soldiered through many difficulties to finish the volume, supported by Salima on Egyptology and historical Egypt, and Beth on various sundry research questions.  She also had the help of other experts, friends of Barbara’s who had long given Barbara feedback on the Amelia books — Dr. Ray Johnson and Dennis Forbes (editor of Kmt).   We will not speculate on whether all this help was fortified by the occasional sip of some sort of genial beverage.  But certainly she completed the task with style.

Today we celebrate Joan Hess, friend and mystery writer extraordinaire, and also Barbara Mertz — aka Elizabeth Peters — as we join Amelia and company on one last adventure.

Version II:  Joan Hess’s Story

If I recall, the sky was a curious shade of yellow as I departed the train station next to BWI.  I knew I was doomed as I climbed into the car with Beth and Salima — they were masters of manipulation and I was an easy target.  Indeed, upon arrival at Mertz Manor, I was plied with vodka & tonic (with a splash of lime juice).  “Finishing the book will be a piece of cake,” Beth cooed as she slid a piece of carrot cake across the kitchen table.  My protests were dismissed.  Beth had gathered all of Barbara’s manuscript pages, most of which had scrawled notes in the margins.  The notes were very challenging to decipher and not always illuminating.  We read aloud what we could and searched for ways to rearrange the scenes for clarity.  Although I’m certain that Barbara had devised the entire plot, she did not share the convolutions — with the exception of the final scene.  Salima was able to answer my dumb questions about Egypt and Beth supplied insights into Amelia and Emerson.

By the end of the weekend, we had come up with some ideas where the story might go.  I felt I was out on a limb that had been patched with duct tape by my dear friends.  Or masking tape.  Thank goodness for vodka and carrot cake.

 

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